Art history is all about knowing where we come from and where we’ve been, from the perspective of works of art. Art history is also about knowing how art has changed over time. Both of which are more relevant than you think. Why study art history? Let’s count the many reasons.
Art Vs. Artifact: What Is Art History?
It’s an excellent question — what makes something art, and what makes something an artifact? Furthermore, what separates an artist from an artisan? The answers may lie in the study of art history.
Some say art is made of creativity, originality, or imagination. Art historians say that art is visually striking, and blends beauty and culture.
Studying art is to look at a piece of art and see the artist’s use of lines, shape, composition, tecture, and approach, and to make inferences about their intentions and meaning.
Art history is looking at those same aspects, throughout periods of history, to learn more about a certain time period or peoples.
Why Study Art History?
So, why study art history, you ask? So many reasons!
1. Every Picture Has A Story
Learning about art history can be fun, and the most fun part about it is uncovering the story behind the art piece. Looking at a picture, performance, or physical object, you get to be a detective searching for meaning behind what you see in front of you. You get to find the story behind the picture.
2. There’s More To Art History Than You Think
Many people think of art history as just memorizing old paintings from the 15th century. That is not the case! Art is much more than just paintings. In art history, you study all types of art — from film, to media, landscaping, ceramics, arms and armour, furniture, fashion and jewelry, photography, performances, and more.
3. Art History Strengthens Your Skills
There is so much more to art history than just memorizing names, dates, and images. Studying art history makes you become a master of visual analysis, written communication, and critical thinking. There is plenty of writing in art history as well, and you may become an expert writer and communicator if you study art history.
4. We Live In A Visual World
In today’s world, everything is visual — just think of how much of your day is spent looking at a computer, tablet, television, or phone screen. We are processing images, both moving and still, all day long. Everyone is shifting from verbal thinking to visual thinking, and art history is one of the best ways to prepare for this, and succeed in this new visual world.
5. Art History Is Your History
True, we are all part of the human race, so any piece of art created by humans is technically our history. But beyond that, make art history your own by studying more about the art history that came specifically from your culture or your ancestors. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of your past and your present self if you can connect to art works of your people’s past.
6. Making Sense Of The Past
Studying art history helps us to make sense of the past. Art shows us what was important and valuable over time from depictions within the art itself. Equally important, we learn what aspects of life were significant for certain cultures over time.
For example, we can find great European paintings from certain periods of time, beautiful African masks from other cultures and times, and econic gold jewelry from Central and South America. Each has their own explanation of the time period they were made in.
Photo by Monika Braskon on Unsplash
What Does It Mean To Study Art History?
Well, it certainly doesn’t mean spending time in old museums or with hundreds of flashcards, as you may have thought. Getting a degree in art history usually means you also have a choice of specialization in areas such as performing arts, literature or music. You will study all things art, and how art changes over history. To study art history, you also need to have a background in philosophy, language arts, and other social sciences.
What Are The Benefits Of Studying Art History?
Incorporating so many fields such as history, economics, anthropology, political science, design, and aesthetics means that you reap many benefits of studying this discipline. By studying art history, you learn to draw conclusions, make inferences, argue a point, and increase your skills such as critical thinking, visual comprehension, and written communication.
What Can We Learn From Works Of The Past?
Art gives us clues to what life was like in the past. Just by identifying an art piece’s colors, materials, and symbolism, we can learn about the culture and time period that created it. We can learn what was important to those people, and how they wanted these importances to be remembered.
Looking at art from the past by studying art history can contribute to who we are as a people today. We can look at what has been done before us, and are able to view the world today with more complete perspectives and better understanding.
The Bottom Line
Why study art history? Art history tells a story, and studying art means you get to uncover the past. Not only can art history be fun and rewarding, but you’ll improve your critical thinking skills, and learn so much along the way.